MobileActive08: Peter Wakholi

In this interview Peter Wakholi, vice head of a department unit and lecturer at Makerere University (the largest university in Uganda), talks about his work on open source applications that allow people to gather data in the field using mobile phones. Some projects involve partners from South Africa, the U.S., and Norway. (See also our earlier blog post about the EpiHandy project.)

There was just the set up of a mobile development lab, supported by Nokia, at his university. The lab aims at developing mobile applications that fit the African context.

We shot the interview at MobileActive08 (organized by MobileActive and sangonet) in Johannesburg last month, as part of our interview podcast series.

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MobileActive08: Peter Wakholi
was published on 28.11.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
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Village Pay Phone Project

As I am basically finished writing my Master thesis (hopefully my supervisor thinks like that too), I would like to introduce some papers that I found interesting and insightful.

This first on is “Village Pay Phones and Poverty Reduction: Insights from a Grameen Bank Initiative in Bangladesh” and is actually a classic.  It was written by Abdul Bayes (Professor of Economics, Jahangimagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh), Joachim von Braun (Director at the Center for Development Research, Bonn, Germany) and Rasheda Akhter (Researcher, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh) in 1999 for the Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn.

I deals with the impact of the Village Pay Phone project of the Grameen Bank on the social and economic situation in the villages in Bangladesh where the project was implemented.

In the following a short summary of the paper:

The situation in Bangladesh 1999:

Village Pay Phone Lady - picture taken from Jeevs Sinclair

Village Pay Phone Lady - picture taken by Jeevs Sinclair

  • 80% of the population live in rural areas
  • 47% of the population live below the poverty line
  • Overall there is only few basic infrastructure

The telecom sector in Bangladesh:

  • 0.26 fixed lines per 100 people
  • Calls are expensive
  • Only 20% of calls are completed successfully
  • There are many complaints

Mobile phone operators entered the market some years ago and leapfrogged the fixed-line subscriptions almost immediately. The reason for this was also the competition between seven operators.

Village Pay Phones:

  • Based on an idea of the Grameen Bank
  • Provide mobile phones to the rural poor
  • Four international partners built an NGO and acquired the license for GSM
  • VPPs were only given to women with certain attributes
  • Call fees and the overall procedure were fixed

Phone owners were usually found to be poorer but socially more conscient than the phone users. Most of the people that made phone calls were non-poor (three-quarters) and male (two-third). Problems were for a lot of users the low connection quality which resulted in a wish for lower rates

The effects of Village Pay Phones:

Economic effects:

  • The VPP owners  gain a net profit of ~270 which accounts for about 1/5 to 1/4 of total income
  • The profit was mostly spent to installment payments, education and saving
  • The alternatives for VPPs would have involved transport costs
  • The consumer surplus is therefore quite high and for the poor it is higher than the not-poor
  • Farmers gain more money because they know about market prices
  • Supply of goods became smoother as the market can be better analysed with more information
  • Foreign exchange has been made more transparent
  • Livestock keepers are better informed of possible diseases and how to cure them
  • Poverty was reduced and people have more to eat
  • Dealing with disasters was made easier due to more communication

Socio-cultural effects:

  • Empowerment of women – more decisions are taken by women alone, mobility was raised
  • The owners of VPPs gain higher social status
  • Phone owners have more knowledge and confidence


So overall it can be said, that the whole project was a big success story and this guy has really earned his Nobel Prize. For the whole article I may refer to Google Scholar.

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Village Pay Phone Project
was published on by Florian Sturm. It files under south asia
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AfrikaCamp 2009 announced

After the first Barcamp on Africa this year in California and some exchang of ideas at Barcamp Vienna 2008, the date and place for AfrikaCamp Vienna 2009 is now officially set. It will take place on the 31 January 2009 at the W@lz in the 14th district of Vienna.

Helge Fahrnberger and Christoph Chorherr are the main organizers, and will help as good as we can. If there’s any designer reading this – at Helge’s site they’re searching for a logo design.

Though it’s still a while to go, I am already looking forward to interesting debates and innovative ideas. I think it’s a great opportunity to bring together people from the IT sphere as well as from the traditional development assistence field and I will try to motivate people from both areas to come.

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AfrikaCamp 2009 announced
was published on 24.11.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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MobileActive08: Erik Hersman

This is the fourth interview from the video podcasts that we shot at MobileActive08 in Johannesburg last month (organized by MobileActive and sangonet).

In this interview Erik Hersman talks about Ushahidi, an online platform that was developed as a response to post-election violence in Kenya. (See also this and this blog post.) He further says that there is no lack of innovation in Africa, but rather a lack of capital, or lack of willingness to take risks by people who have that capital.

Erik Hersman also writes a great blog about high-tech mobile and web technology change in Africa (White African) and also contributes to another blog, which is about low-tech ingenuity and microentrepreneurs in Africa (AfriGadget).

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MobileActive08: Erik Hersman
was published on 22.11.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
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Voice services

Although many high end projects have been launched in the field of ICT4D, most of the people still can be reached through established media such as radio, television or the basic mobile phone functions – SMS and voice calls. Therefore it doesn’t surprise me that some of the most successful projects in ICT4D (FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, Tradenet, …) rely on these basic features (mostly SMS) for the front end.

An idea of mine which appeared in the course of writing my thesis was to provide updated information from the internet on a telephone number. Me and my colleagues David Hauer and Andreas Hornich wrote the prototype NoisR which uses the service Podlinez for this purpose. Right now, my colleagues work on expanding this prototype with some new features, I’m curious what will be the outcome.

Recently I’ve come across several other projects with a quite similar approach – to provide information from the internet in an audible representation accessible by phone. Or to just provide functionality of the internet for people without internet and computer.

One project was just recently launched by fellow blogger Drew CogbillPigeon.

In his own words:

“Pigeon is a social network that you access through a phone call.  Pigeon gives you one voice message that lasts one minute to tell your world what’s up.  You can think of your Pigeon message as a voice status update, an audio micro-blog, or space for citizen journalism.”

He even uploaded a short video on youtube to demonstrate the functions and now invites everybody to try out the service. Several tools which work quite alike are listed in another blog post of his.

Another service I have an eye on already a while, is Mosoko. It tries to provide functions similar to Craigslist, only by voice.

I really think these projects have potential, also keeping in mind the high rates of illiteracy in lesser developed countries which inhibit access to information represented in written form. Furthermore, as already mentioned, the access to mobile phones is increasingly given, whereas the access to computers and internet is not – I am wondering if there are also successful initiatives which combine the internet with radio, which is an even more popular ICT.

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Voice services
was published on 20.11.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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MobileActive08: Gary Marsden

We had the opportunity to interview Gary Marsden at MobileActive08 in Johannesburg (organized by MobileActive and sangonet). Gary is associate professor at the Department of Computer Science, University of Cape Town.

In the interview he talks about internationalization of user interfaces. While working in Africa he made the experience that translating text into local language and changing icons is not sufficient. There are other issues that people from non-western cultures have with computing interfaces. For example many of them have difficulties understanding hierarchies. Gary describes his approach to address these issues, which he calls Empowered Design. The idea of this approach is to create technology that allows people in Africa to create their own applications, rather than having researchers dictating which applications people in Africa should have.

Gary also introduces briefly some projects to illustrate his approach to mobile interaction design in Africa. One of the applications he mentions is Big Board – a public display that allows people to download media for free – which he also presented at the MobileActive08 conference.

Anyone who’s interested in this topic, should also check out his book on Mobile Interaction Design (that he wrote together with Matt Jones) and his article on Empowered Design.

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MobileActive08: Gary Marsden
was published on 14.11.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under sub saharan africa
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The Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion; picture from Amazon

The Bottom Billion; picture from Amazon

The last days I read the remarkable book The Bottom Billion of Paul Collier. I learned so many relevant things on development of lesser developed countries that I really want to recommend you to read it.

Paul Collier

Paul Collier; picture from

Generally, Paul Collier is

“Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at the Oxford University, and former director of Development Research at the World Bank. [from the book]”

He wrote the book “The Bottom Billion” as a contribution to research on “Why The poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It” – as also the subheading says.

The studies which he conducted over several years with some colleagues (and which are published on his homepage) are the base of the book. I like his approach to explain highly controversial and disputed political questions with exclusively statistical instruments.

Many outcomes are surprising even for people who are highly interested in the topic of development – like me. Questions such as “what causes war?” or “does aid help?” are answered by statistical research and the interpretations seem quite reasonable.

So in the following I will line out some findings that I found interesting and that also have relevance for ICT4D (or for which ICT4D could be relevant).

– A key factor for ensuring that revenues for resources or aid money is spent for the good of the country (resulting on faster growth rates of the economy) and not “lost” on the way is a free press.

In this context I thought of bloggers which, in some countries, exist, even if there is no free press. I would be interested if their inluence is similar – actually I am quite positive about that. So maybe initiatives such as Rising Voices or Global Voices Advocacy have a real economic impact?

– For landlocked countries which are dependent on their neighbours, there are two ways to escape their situation which involve ICTs.

One possibility is to become a center for e-services and attract foreign companies to outsource there. This could foster economic growth – and I even would extend that suggestion beyond the scope of landlocked countries. E-services are easy to outsource and their popularity seems to be rising and rising. Any low-wage country offering such services is attractive to companies.

The other possibility is to “create a transpartent and investor-friendly environment for resource prospecting [from the book]”. Here ICTs could help as well with tools in e-transparency and e-democracy.

– To raise productivity, labor force in less developed countries need private capital, which is always scarce in such countries.

Here I thought of microfinance and platforms such as Kiva. With Kiva, capital can be allocated directly to the ones in need. By the way – just recently the initiative into(context) has been launched to optimize Kiva, providing the lenders faster with more accurate information about the progress of the borrowers’ businesses.

– An aiding-instrument which has a very high impact compared to the money spent, is technical assistance by foreign specialists. Especially after a new leader comes into power, it pays off to send skilled workers into a country, training the local population.

Here I thought of Geekcorps, an NGO which sends technically skilled people in less developed countries to teach the local population to set up their comunications infrastructure.

– According to the book, the key medium which can bring tranparency and foster change in lesser developed countries is the radio.

Though development on the IT and especially mobile sector is advancing quickly (Nokia’s announcement was of course a big step forward), I agree that we must not forget the well-established ICTs already in place – such as TV or radio. With combining these “old” and “new” technologies a lot can be achieved.


In the book, the possibilities of ICTs are not mentioned specifically, a more macropolitical set of policy measures are proposed. In this TED-talk for example, Paul Collier expresses more closely some of his ideas how to improve the situation of the bottom billion with policy measures.

Still, in some examples such as the ones mentioned above, there is potential for ICTs to help. The book provides a very good framework where, in which context and when certain measures should be applied. So in my opinion this is a must-read for people who are interested in development generally.

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The Bottom Billion
was published on 11.11.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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Zanzibar for sure. Stories from the field.

Due to the load of field work we have been busy with, and the lack of decent internet connection, we have not been able to post as frequently as we would have liked. So we give you here a wrap-up of the recent weeks activities so you get a glimpse of the many stories we have documented so far. Next week we will have free wi-fi in our apartment so we can also post some good shots.

We want to mention that the output of our misson is to shoot a movie and we will publish all the raw material of the Nikon D90 HD-ready video and H2 Zoom WAV audio as Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike and provide download or mail delivery service. (You should attribute “” and link to

The champion

We had a very interesting meeting with a guy called Juma Lukondya. We met him in Jambiani while we were staying at a local kitchen and he introduced himself to us as the bicycle champion of Zanzibar. It turned out that he is sponsored by the Austrian bike team Cyclopia. He is using his mobile phone to keep in contact with his family in a remote part of the mainland. He also get updates in his phone from upcoming bike competitions, it also keeps him in touch with the Austrian team. We have footage of him training on the beach, riding his bike and using his phone.

Massais at Paje Ndame

We had a very successful day meeting traditional Massais working in Paje. We interviewed Faraja who shared his experiences with mobile phones. He introduced us to his friends who were very cheerful and avid mobile users. We have lots of film material with them chatting and telling their stories and opinions of network operators. One guy was all the time dancing to his favourite mobile tune on his Nokia. Later they all gathered to play a traditional game called Bao, and all the time the phones are ringing while they are playing.


As the tide was good we decided to go out fishing with captain Mohamed and his crew on a traditional sailing boat. The weather was stable but as we left Jambiani there was heavy rain all time we were on the boat. Everything got wet and everybody jumped into the water to have a swim. So no mobile phone acitvity on the boat. The fishermen left the phones at home charging. As we got back to their house on the beach they started using the phones and we did some interviews while they were repairing the fish traps and the nets and peeling the fish.

Local wedding

We were invited to a local wedding ceremony. It was a very nice experience and we were allowed to catch everything on film. It started outside and there was a big gathering of families and friends of the couple. There was a lot of people taking pictures with their cellphones and also DV cameras around. We brought a gift for the bride therefore we were invited in to their house where they had already set up a scene with lightning gear and filming equipment. Afterwards we were offered traditional spicy Pilau rice dish outside. All people were sitting on the ground between the village houses together with goats and chicken and eating the food with the hands from big plates.

Sound recording

We met a cool guy in Stone Town, Akhran Mohammed. He makes his living in town as a shopkeeper but his real passion is recording songs with his friends. He showed us to the basic studio they have and we filmed them while they recorded a new song. The sound producer provides a cool beat on his  Macbook while Akhran is rehearsing a catchy lovesong. When they are finished recording the producer converts the new song into a mp3 file and transfers it via bluetooth to Akhrans mobile phone. Later Akhran plays the song for his impressed friends on the phone in town.

What else do we have?

We cover the school in Jambiani where we are having Swahili lessons. Our teacher Mr. Faridi is holding a special class about mobile phones in his secondary school class. We interviewed the teachers and got a lot of opinions about mobiles. We have a lot of night life shots here and there. most of them in local bars and people having party.

We cover Zanzibits, a Dutch project, which is a multimedia school where they teach programming and handling complex software for editing media. We have a local band called Dwumbaki. They are playing Ngoma, traditional Zanzibarian music. We cover a local kitchen where potatoes are fried and we see randomly shots of customers coming in and out. We have the Jambiani town councellor and we follow him around in his duties. We feature the seaweed women harvesting and drying seaweed.

We follow the student Muhammed when he is playing football and taking photos with his phone. We film a fundi in town repairing and hacking phones. We join an engineer which is building up a new lodge. AND we went to another wedding (!).

We want to mention that we are using a 3 year old Nokia Communicator 9300i and we share it (2 people). It is very useful to write SMS on the keyboard and manage contents in folders. it is also a great notebook where you just enter rich text, format it with RTF editor and then bluetooth it to the Macbook, transfer it to a USB stick and then post this blog 🙂 Also, people we meet love to play with it and pretend doing phonecalls with it.

That’s all for now, stay tuned.

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Zanzibar for sure. Stories from the field.
was published on 09.11.2008 by Martin Konzett. It files under sub saharan africa
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Photo of the week 6

This is a series which should provide an idea of ICT usage in lesser developed countries (LDCs). The pictures are mostly in the pool of the FlickR group Images FOR Africa.

This one was taken by Martin Konzett in Johannesburg just last month during our film project.

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Photo of the week 6
was published on by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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MobileActive08: Kutoma Wakunuma

This is the second of the interviews we shot the MobileActive08 conference in Johannesburg last month (organized by and sangonet). In this video Dr Kutoma Wakunuma from Sheffield Hallam University (UK) talks about the social and economic impacts of new technologies in developing countries. She is specifically interested in gender aspects and investigates how mobile phones and the Internet can empower women in countries like Zambia. In the interview she discusses results from a study that she conducted in Zambia four years ago, regarding differences of mobile phone use between men and women. Her conclusion is that there is a need for more research focusing on the downsides (like social conflicts) of new technologies in developing countries.

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MobileActive08: Kutoma Wakunuma
was published on 07.11.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under sub saharan africa
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